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National Bureau of Economic Research

EVs for Cleaner Air? Location, Location…

July 1, 2015 in EVs, Studies by Rich Piellisch  |  No Comments

Study Points Up Areas Where Battery Cars May Actually Do Harm

The clean air benefits of electric vehicles depend heavily on the source of the electricity used to charge their batteries, says a study just released by the National Bureau of Economic Research. California and the west fare far better than coal-dependent states to the east, the study finds, where EVs can actually be a drag on the environment.

“We find considerable variation in the environmental benefit,” states an NBER summary of the paper by economists Stephen Holland, Erin Mansur, Nicholas Muller, and Andrew Yates.

Their analysis employed “a fine-grained, county-level measure of U.S. vehicle emissions traced to tailpipes and electricity grids,” according to an excellent report on the NBER study by Eric Jaffe on (a service of the Atlantic Monthly Group).

The electricity has to come from somewhere.

The electricity has to come from somewhere.

11 EV Models Evaluated Versus Gasoline

“The benefits are substantially different depending on where you are in the country,” co-author Stephen Holland of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, says in the CityLab report. “The real big take-home message is: location, location, location.”

Jaffe described the study as “incredibly sophisticated,” noting that the researchers took actual energy consumption data from 11 EV models, as well as gasoline vehicle mileage figures and compared them apples-to-apples to the extent possible – the Ford Focus, for example, is available as both.

1,486 Power Plants

They considered the emissions from 1,486 power plants.

A key finding is that while EV purchase incentives are a good thing in places like Los Angeles, they are counter-productive in other parts of the country.

“There will be a niche for gasoline cars,” Holland told CityLab. “But our calculations show there are substantial benefits to electric vehicles in some places.”

The study, Environmental Benefits from Driving Electric Vehicles? may be ordered via the NBER website.

Eestimated clean air impacts of gasoline cars (left) and EVs (right) -- maps from NBER study via CityLab

Eestimated clean air impacts of gasoline cars (left) and EVs (right) — maps from NBER study via CityLab

Source: NBER and CityLab with Fleets & Fuels follow-up 

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